Tuesday June 25, 2019

Baby Gene Experiment Foolish and Dangerous: Experts

Professor He Jiankui shocked the world when he genetically altered the twins

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Baby, Gene, Experiment, Foolish
Professor He Jiankui shocked the world when he genetically altered the twins to try to give them protection against HIV. Pixabay

The first people to be gene-edited — a pair of baby twin girls — may have been mutated in a way that shortens life expectancy, research suggests.

Professor He Jiankui shocked the world when he genetically altered the twins to try to give them protection against HIV, the BBC reported.

However, now a study in Nature Medicine shows people who naturally have the mutation — he was trying to recreate — were significantly more likely to die young.

Experts said Prof He’s actions were “very dangerous” and “foolish”.

Baby, Gene, Experiment, Foolish
The first people to be gene-edited a pair of baby twin girls may have been mutated in a way that shortens life expectancy.Pixabay

Prof He was targeting a gene called CCR5. It is a set of genetic instructions that are important for how the immune system functions. They are also the doorway that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) walks through to infect cells.

Mutations to CCR5 essentially lock the door and give people resistance to HIV. So, Prof He made embryos in an IVF clinic and then used gene-editing technologies on the twins to alter the CCR5 gene.

Resulting in girls — named Lulu and Nana — who were born last year.

The problem is CCR5 has a bigger role in the body than just making people vulnerable to HIV. It is active in the brain and in fighting off other infections, particularly flu.

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The study, at the University of California, Berkeley, looked at nearly 410,000 people in the UK, among them those who had only the mutated version of CCR5 were 20 per cent more likely to die before they turned 78. (IANS)

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Researchers Identify Gene Associated with Sudden Death in Epilepsy

The researchers observed the mice with Dravet syndrome had bad seizures that became more severe when the mice got hot, exactly like humans with Dravet syndrome

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Structure of brain can help find the causes behind epilepsy.
Structure of brain can help find the causes behind epilepsy.

Researchers have identified a gene associated with sudden death in epilepsy.

Usually, it is believed that the patient had a seizure that killed them. But seizures happen in the cortex, the top of the brain and life-sustaining processes like breathing are controlled somewhere else entirely — the brainstem, the very bottom part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord.

In a study, published in the scientific journal ‘eLife’, the researchers from the University of Connecticut tried to figure out if there was a genetic basis for sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). They tried to understand if the same genetic mutation that causes the seizures also disrupts the cells in the brainstem that control breathing.

For the study, researchers raised mice with the human mutation for a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome, which is caused by mutations in a gene that shapes the channels through which sodium moves in and out of cells in the brain. If the sodium channels don’t function properly, cells can get overexcited. One cell’s over-excitement can travel through the brain like hysteria through a crowded stadium, stampeding into a seizure.

The gene mutated in the Dravet syndrome is called the sodium channel gene 1a or ‘Scn1a’. It’s considered a super-culprit for epilepsy, with more than 1,200 different Scn1a mutations identified.

The severity of epilepsy caused by Scn1a depends on whether the mutation causes partial or complete loss of the sodium channel’s function.

People with Dravet syndrome tend to have dramatic seizures, exacerbated by hot weather and the syndrome is very hard to control with anti-epileptic medications.

Epilepsy drug in pregnant women may increase oral cleft risk in baby
Epilepsy drug in pregnant women may increase oral cleft risk in baby. Wikimedia Commons

The study’s findings showed that Scn1a mutation makes the sodium channels less active. Instead of making cells overactive, it makes them underactive.

This mutation mostly affects inhibitory cells or cells in charge of calming the brain down.

To understand how this might lead to the patients’ sudden death, the researchers tested whether the mice with the Dravet syndrome mutation show breathing problems and die prematurely of SUDEP and also, whether the cells in the part of the mice’s brainstem that controls breathing were normal or were somehow perturbed by the mutation.

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The researchers observed the mice with Dravet syndrome had bad seizures that became more severe when the mice got hot, exactly like humans with Dravet syndrome.

They also found that mice with Dravet Syndrome had a breathing disorder. They tended to hyperventilate (breathe too little) for no apparent reason sometimes. Other times they would have long apneas or pauses between breaths. And these mice didn’t breathe more in response to high carbon dioxide levels in the air, the way humans and normal mice do.

“We felt really good that our model was reflecting the human condition,” noted Dan Mulkey, a neuroscientist from the University of Connecticut. (IANS)